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Connections, Persistence, Funding...A Recipe for Food Access in Rural Kansas

By Simone Elder and Tiffany Nixon

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They showed up with shopping lists, coupons, and smiles on their faces. Many exclaimed how glad they were to be able to shop for groceries in town again, some reminiscing about when the last time they were able to bump into their neighbors in the grocery store aisles. On October 10, Stafford County Marketplace in St. John celebrated its grand opening with locals and state supporters. When their Dillon’s closed on the downtown square in February of 2016, members of the community were ready to fight to have a grocery store again. Now in addition to the produce, yogurt, bread, and meat, they have a store better than anything they could have imagined which incorporates a gas station and convenience store plus a much needed pharmacy.

In these days where you’re more likely to hear of a grocery store or hospital closing than a grand opening, we want to take a moment to commend this community for its diligence and perseverance in believing in its future. At a recent meeting, a comment was made that early settlers in  Kansas invested in buildings and businesses in their communities with the vision of them lasting for generations. Unfortunately, today many residents don’t invest in their communities unless the return can be penciled out nicely in 5-10 years. As Pat White shared with the crowd, his family has been in the grocery business since 1953 in Coldwater, and they are creating a legacy for their families. An investment was made in the community of St. John over the past two and half years that is meant to last for generations because they believe in the future of their community.

The power of relationships is significant in many communities across the state, and Stafford County’s success has led the way. Because of the relationship that we had built with Carolyn Dunn, Executive Director of the Stafford County Economic Development, NetWork Kansas worked alongside the community in their journey to bring a grocery store back. We brought them in as an early possible project in the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative process. They were also able to leverage additional grant dollars from another program to approve a $45,000 E-Community grant.

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Without the initial belief by the local community, the Stafford County Marketplace wouldn’t have been the first Kansas Healthy Foods Initiative project to receive funding through a $75,000 Challenge grant. Senator Jerry Moran’s office wouldn’t have been able to contribute with their letter of support for the Health and Human Services grant. The Sunflower Foundation wouldn’t have had the opportunity to invest in the Stafford County Marketplace with their H.E.R.O. grant. Golden Belt Telephone wouldn’t have been able to provide a Rural Economic Development Loan to the White’s. And countless others wouldn’t have been able to invest in this project without a simple belief that this was needed and a good investment for the future. Never discount for a moment what believing in something and being prepared to roll up your sleeves and getting to work can accomplish. A well-developed network of partners and friends doesn’t hurt either.

To learn more about the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative visit kansashealthyfoodinitiative.org or contact KHFI at (785) 532-6868 or khfi@k-state.edu.